After a successful career in the NFL, which included playing for the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, Jared Veldheer, once one of the “most indispensable players” in the NFL according to a Washington Post ranking, wasn’t going to take his retirement sitting down.
Instead, when he spotted that his kids’ school, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School, was in desperate need of someone to supervise and serve lunch to their 260 students — after the previous manager had resigned with just two weeks before the start of school — he decided he’d try out this very demanding role.
However, despite such a drastic change in career, there was something his former job could bring to the kitchen, as the Washington Post reported:
“I’d eaten meticulously for more than a decade and I thought, ‘There is value in being able to cook and provide kids with a good, nutritious lunch.’”
So Veldheer went to his children’s school armed with all his know-how about eating healthily and substantially changed the menu. Gone were the typical pizzas, nuggets, and French fries, and in came an assortment of nutritious dishes, including mashed cauliflower and smoked carnitas.
An appreciative crowd
Perhaps surprisingly, the children were delighted with the changes at the newly named SPA 68 Cafe — the number on Veldheer’s shirt. The nutritious $3.50 meals proved a hit with the kids and members of staff, with some of the children turning down their go-to meals in favor of the former football player’s healthier options.
And as the school principal, Michelle Morrow, shared, “Everything he makes is delicious and appreciated by kids and adults alike. For him, it’s not just cooking — it’s making sure that the food and nutrients students are eating serves them best in the classroom.”
One mom of two, Courtney McGivney, reported that her two kids said they’d “only eat Mr. Veldheer’s chimichurri steak” when offered their regular steak in a restaurant.
And it’s not surprising: Veldheer seems to be putting as much passion into his meals as he did his football plays. He even got dressed up in lederhosen to encourage the kids to try his recipe for German sausage and sauerkraut — a bit of a challenge for a 6’8″ man weighing in at 265 pounds!
He certainly didn’t take on the $15 an hour post for the money — considering the millions his previous career had earned him. It was more a question of being open to a new experience while being able to lend a helping hand.
For Veldheer his customers weren’t an easy crowd at first. “It took a while to capture some trust from the kids. Kindergartners are my toughest critics.” But he’s certainly putting the effort in by coming up with appealing looking meals and listening to his critics without taking offense.
Thankfully he can also rely on his own children — Eva, 6, and Edwin, 4 — who are helping him with their feedback as to what’s working and what’s not.
In what is such an usual career change, it’s lovely to see how Veldheer is continuing to inspire others off the field with his dedicated work in keeping kids healthy and happy.